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The creators of 'Blood Oath' on family, violence, and Prohibition

Comic Books

The creators of ‘Blood Oath’ on family, violence, and Prohibition

Alex Segura, Rob Hart, and Joe Eisma breakdown their newly-released ComiXology Original.

Writers Alex Segura and Rob Hart first worked together on Bad Beat, a gritty crime tale involving an down-on-his-luck sports reporter and a star athlete accused of fixing games. More recently, the pair have reunited for another equally gritty project, the all-new ComiXology Original Blood Oath.

This Prohibition-era comic is rounded out by artist Joe Eisma, colorist Hilary Jenkins, and letterer Jim Campbell. Together, the team tells a story around Hazel Crenshaw, a Prohibition-era farmer trying to care for her family until “her secret business becomes inescapably tangled up with the New York gangs that eventually coalesce into the mafia, and a new, unknown partner.” Without revealing too much (we’ll let the team spill some of the more supernatural-related beans), it’s an intriguing new perspective on Prohibition, as told through the lens of a poignant tale of family and duty.

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Ahead of Blood Oath #1 debuting today, we caught up with Segura, Hart, and Eisma via email. There, we discussed the story’s development, their many influences, the overall creative process, and much more.

The creators of 'Blood Oath' on family, violence, and Prohibition

AIPT: What’s the elevator pitch for Blood Oath?

Alex Segura: In Prohibition-era New York, a rural bootlegger named Hazel Crenshaw finds her life disrupted by a violent, gang-related attack – culminating in the kidnapping of her younger sister, Geraldine. But as she learns over the course of the series, this isn’t your average gang warfare, but part of a bigger, deadlier blood oath being broken between the gangs of New York and another, more monstrous group.

Rob Hart: And if it’s a really short elevator ride you could just say: “Boardwalk Empire with vampires.”

AIPT Why set this in the Prohibition era? Is there something about that moment in time that feels resonant with the “weirdness” of our own?

AS: I don’t think we consciously said “let’s do Prohibition to comment on today,” but I’m sure that’s inevitable. I know I’ve always been fascinated about the early days of organized crime in New York, before the Five Families were established and during the era of things like Boardwalk Empire. I think it clicked for Rob and I over lunch when we landed on the idea of, ‘what if there was a secret, sixth family – and they were vampires?” That high concept evolved a bit, but we knew we wanted to blend the genres we love as readers – crime, historical fiction, and horror, so Prohibition seemed like a really fun era to play in. Also, how wild is the idea that vampires are using the machinery of Prohibition to funnel blood? That really sang for us.

RH: Yeah, I wouldn’t say there was meant to be any commentary… but it is a little interesting that Prohibition was about religious nuts outlawing things that shouldn’t be outlawed, and the past is currently present…

AIPT: Rob and Alex, you worked together on the digital short Bad Beat. How did that process inform your work or prepare you for this?

AS: Rob and I are old friends and I think we have a similar, journalistic work ethic. We put in the time and crank on the idea to it can come to life. So, the work itself flowed easily. We were also really lucky to have editor Heather Antos on our team, making sure the engine was running and keeping all the pieces moving. But in terms of our collaboration – we’re not precious with our ideas and the best thing always wins. We’d have a few big picture conversations and then just go back and forth in document, and once we were happy with it, we’d run it by Joe and Heather.

RH: I think one of the best parts of working with Alex is: neither of us has an ego. We know the story has to win in the end. So in the rare instances where we really disagree on something, it’s easy enough to pick a side and move forward.

AIPT: Why are vampires still such a compelling cultural trope to explore?

AS: I think the idea of immortality is compelling — the concept that nothing can really hurt you and that you’ll be around for hundreds of years. But what we wanted to explore was…what is the cost of that? We definitely didn’t want sparkling vampires and we wanted to avoid the idea of the regal, elegant vampire if we could. Those had both been done well and a lot. We wanted to spend time with criminal vampires, who’d figured out a way to “feed” themselves and their people through these illegal systems humans created, and the idea that they formed a tenuous alliance or, well, blood oath, to make that work. But what happens when that oath is violated?

RH: I think vampires are such a compelling storytelling tool — they can be anything. Goofy, grotesque, fun, sexy. Whatever the story requires. So for us it’s great. For a reader — I think vampires are sort of like zombies, in the sense that it allows a person to work both their own fantasies and anxieties.

Joe Eisma: Vampires seem to always resonate with people. There are so many types of stories you can do with them. There’s something to how seductive, yet horrifying they are as a concept.

Blood Oath

AIPT: I love the way the vampires are characterized here. Why is that so novel, and how much does it have to do with the setting and era?

AS: I think Rob, and later Joe and the team, wanted to be sure we treated the vampires as monsters. They are thoughtful, conniving, and have feelings, but they’re not cuddly. They’re like raptors — they live to hunt, and everything else kind of runs secondary to that. But that approach — the strategic and bloodthirsty killer — really dovetailed nicely with the setting, which is very much the wild west of modern, organized crime.

RH: I have no real interest in writing good-guy vampires, but I also have no interest in writing good-guy mobsters. I think mobsters get glamorized as these antiheroes who stick up for their families and their communities, when in reality they’re criminals who make a business out of other people’s pain. So to me vampires and mobsters are pretty much exactly the same.

JE: I really appreciate how much room Alex and Rob gave me to explore and portray the vampires here. I really saw them as frightening, imposing figures, and I hope that’s evident in their portrayal here.

AIPT: Do you have any favorite vampire films/books/shows/etc. that informed this story?

AS: I grew up on the Anne Rice books and still come back to them. Dracula is also something I think about a lot. Those are the big ones for me.

Blood Oath

RH: Blade II is an underrated masterpiece. Only Lovers Left Alive could be the last vampire movie ever made and we’d all be good. And I’m obsessed with What We Do in the Shadows. I love anything that takes the vampire concept and tweaks it, or presents it in a new light.

JE: Agreed with Rob on What We Do in the Shadows — such a great and novel take on vampires. I’m a huge fan of The Lost Boys and Fright Night. I saw both of those as a kid in the 80s, and how those films portrayed vampires really scared me and resonated with me.

AIPT: Hazel comes off pretty strong in issue #1. Why is she such a great entry into this world, and how vital is her work ethic and her sense of loyalty in fostering this tale?

AS: We love Hazel because she’s driven by responsibility. To her parents’ farm. To her sister. To survival. And very rarely gets to do anything outside of that. She’s no-nonsense, focused, and loyal. But when her life gets pulled apart, we really get to see her come into her own and become a hero. That journey is fascinating.

RH: Exactly. And I think the key with stories like this is to focus on someone who’s coming into it fresh. That way we get to introduce Hazel to this lunacy, along with the reader.

JE: Hazel is fantastic. I’ve always been a fan of strong female leads in horror: Scream, Alien, You’re Next; I think Hazel can stand up there with the leads of those stories.

The creators of 'Blood Oath' on family, violence, and Prohibition

AIPT: The art here is pretty great – very deliberate and straightforward. Could anyone walk me through the references or inspirations for the style? Is that aforementioned straightforward approach vital to the story at large?

AS: I’ve known Joe Eisma for a long time and we collaborated on The Archies for that series’ run. I think Joe is hugely underrated – he’s hardworking, fast, and amazingly talented, and we know each other well enough that we have a pretty great shorthand. To say that Joe saved this book would be a huge understatement.

But what I love, particularly about his work on Blood Oath, is pairing him with Hilary Jenkins, one of my absolute favorite colorists. She adds a painterly style and depth to Joe’s line that I don’t think we’ve seen before, giving the art this kind of ethereal and historic feel — almost as if you’re reading the book through a lens that transports you to another era. We were so lucky to have them both for this series. I also want to give our letterer, Jim Campbell, a shout – he’s an absolute pro and I’ve loved working with him on this.

RH: I think with the vampires we pretty much told Joe to look at Peaky Blinders. We wanted the vampires to be thugs who also cared about how they looked. Other than that… I don’t think we gave Joe a ton of direction on the visual style, and I think that speaks to both his skill as an artist, and our vibe as a team. Everything fell into place really easily, and Joe just killed it.

JE: Rob and Alex are too kind! I was so happy to join this project–it was unlike anything I’d done before. I’ve dabbled in different time periods in some of my books — mostly in flashbacks or cutaway sequences, but never an entire series set in the past. It was daunting to compile all the reference — I wanted the reader to really feel this time period come to life in our book. Thankfully, Alex and Rob gave me a lot of touchstones and inspirations to look to for that. I also can’t say enough good things about Hilary Jenkins–I’ve never had anyone color my art like she did, and I was blown away when she sent her first pages in! She lifted the art to a whole new level.

The creators of 'Blood Oath' on family, violence, and Prohibition

AIPT: Without spoiling too much, what can we expect from the rest of the story? Is this a vampire tale masquerading as a family drama or vice versa?

AS: I think as Hazel and Walt continue to try and find Geraldine, they’ll discover that her capture was just part of a much bigger war between two powerful factions, and they happen to be caught in the middle. So while we follow their quest we’ll see some of the bigger pieces come in to play and build out this world and story to create something hopefully entertaining, terrifying, and fun.

RH: Also, it’s gonna get bloody…

JE: Really, really bloody. I will definitely say we do not skimp on the action or violence in this story.

AIPT: Why should anyone pick up issue #1?

AS: It’s Boardwalk Empire meets vampires. What more can I say?

RH: Yup!

JE: Echoing what Alex said, and who doesn’t love a thrilling, scary story with lots of twists? Wait till you see our ending.

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